32 posts categorized "Travel"

January 01, 2014

Happy New Year!

This year, we donned our finest pirate garb and rang in the new year on the high seas (Disney Carribean Cruise).

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Blog gwen maddy pirate-Ship_Bow_Portrait-8679728 blog
Blog gwen maddy pirate-Ship_Bow_Portrait-8679728 blogIf you have kids, you really can't beat the convenience and comfort of a cruise vacation and nobody does has a better family experience than Disney.  This was our first Disney cruise and we'll probably never use anyone else.  It was insanely fun and perfect down to the smallest detail.  Truly magical.

Blog gwen maddy pirate-Ship_Bow_Portrait-8679728 blogOn formal night, Gwen opted to chill out in the kids area but Maddy wanted to get dressed up and have an 'adult' dinner with Mom and Dad.  She was thrilled to have her curled and wear a little bit of makeup.  It was our first Mommy/Daughter glam event and we really loved it!
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Blog gwen maddy pirate-Ship_Bow_Portrait-8679728 blogA rare photo of just the parents!
Blog gwen maddy pirate-Ship_Bow_Portrait-8679728 blog

June 30, 2011

Boat Vacation 2011

Ever since our Mediterranean cruise last summer, the girls have talked nonstop about another "boat vacation". 

That was our first glimpse into how easy a vacation with young kids can be so we wasted no time booking cruise number two.  Ten months later, we were back on the ship enjoying two beautiful weeks on the Baltic.  

Gwen seems to always have her birthday while we're on vacation.  She turned 5 in Paris, 6 in Rome, 7 in Copenhagen and she's likely to turn 8 in Barcelona next summer.  That might sound exciting to a grown-up but it's kinda sucky for a kid since there aren't any presents and usually not even a birthday cake.  She got a cake on the ship this year though - and she was thrilled!

Baltic cruise 2011 collage
Any other fun (2 week) summer vacations we should be considering? 

May 08, 2011

Camping isn't for wimps

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After our 2001 wedding, Andrew and I did the usual combining of household items and marveled at the size of our our newly merged camping equipment collection.  So how is it possible that we never touched a single tent pole or propane lantern until last weekend?

Okay, it’s my fault.   For years, Andrew has repeatedly suggested that we simply toss a couple of sleeping bags and a tent into the back of the van and spend a leisurly night "at one" with nature but I dragged my feet because I know that camping with kids is anything but simple or leisurely.   There’s a LOT of planning that goes into a successful camping trip if one is to hope to emerge from the experience with anything but mosquito bites and nervous twitches.   

Certain questions have to be answered in advance:   Where will we sleep?  Will we be warm enough?  What will the kids do at the campsite for fun?  What will we eat and how will we prepare it?  What about lights and lamps?  What about bugs?  What about rain?  What about toilets and water and campfires and chairs and tarps and tent repair kits?  So much to do before we shed those annoying constraints of civilization to make our home with the vicious creatures and wild beasts that inhabit the woods just outside the limits of all cities.

But we finally did it and here’s the photographic proof:

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We arrived at our camp site (at Uvas Canyon County Park) and were immediately greeted by our closest camp-neighbors: three loudly barking dogs, six adults in various stages of early intoxication and two crying toddlers.  After completely unpacking and setting up camp, we headed out for our first hike where we encountered some of our more civilized neighbors who were quick to offer their condolences after hearing which site we reserved.   This inspired us to explore some alternatives so we were excited to see that there was a vacancy way down on the far end of the campground (closer to the creek and waterfall) so we hightailed it back to our van and loaded everything up and moved.  We didn’t break down the tents though.  Instead, Gwen and Maddy and Daddy and Mommy each grabbed a corner and we walked our erect tents down the long road to their new location.  

All settled for the 2nd time, we got down to the business of having fun!

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Above, Maddy and Gwen prepare for a potato-gun duel to the death.  What’s a potato gun, you ask?  It’s a surprisingly simple little toy that works like this: 

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First you load the gun by jabbing the barrel into a raw potato and gouging out a little spud-pellet that remains in the gun until it is eventually forced out at very low pressure when you pull the trigger.   It’s about as dangerous as booger throwing and almost as much fun.

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Our camp site was beautiful and well appointed with a fire ring, picnic table, large shade trees, flat surface for the tents and a medium sized creek and waterfall nearby.  One enormous plus of this particular site is the blissful “white noise” of the waterfall that masks the other camp sounds at night and makes it easier for this mom to sleep.    We went on several nature walks and found all sorts of interesting critters including a couple of yellow spotted millipedes (that Gwen insisted were caterpillars), the biggest banana slug we’ve ever seen, a really cool daddy-long-leg spider and even a small snake. 

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You may have guessed from the photo at the top of this post that Gwen and Maddy’s Daddy is somewhat excited about sharp shiny objects.  I’m sure I saw him gently caress the cool steel surface of his camping axe before unsheathing it and commencing a brutal assault on a totally innocent log.  It was too much for me so made a hasty retreat after taking a few pics (in case they were needed as evidence).  A little while later, he showed up at the fire pit with beads of sweat on his brow, a twinkle in his eye, and two large handfuls of kindling and in no time at all, he created this handsome fire!

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…. a very lovely fire where we lovingly placed our dinner of succulent sausages (packed full of sundried tomato and mozzarella) and almost immediately turned them into individual, foil-wrapped, servings of coal.   Crud.

Fortunately, I’m all about the contingency plan so there was plenty of yummy cup-o-noodles for everyone!   

And what camping trip would be complete without  hot chocolate and smores?   The girls loved toasting the marshmallows and building these fancy desserts but when it came time to actually eat them, they were mostly just interested in the sweet slab of Hershey’s chocolate in the middle.  Oh, but Mommy loved that toasty marshmallow!! blog smoresAfter several (not so) scary campfire stories, we finally settled down for the night.  Here’s a photo of the half of our tent where Gwen and Maddy slept on their much loved aerobeds.  And here’s a pic of our fresh-faced, well-rested girls the next morning!  Yes, that’s a bottle of pediasure with a nipple on top (gasp!).  I almost photoshopped it out to avoid grief from holier-than-thou commenters who might be unable to resist the urge to scold me for letting my 6 year old daughters consume their breakfast this way but I really don’t see how it’s that much different than a straw.   

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All things considered, the entire camping experience was positive but man am I sore and tired!  Next time I think I’ll bring warmer blankets so I can sleep more than two hours and I think we need to buy a new tent that is tall enough to stand up in (it’s hard to make beds and prepare the inside of a tent when you have to do everything hunched over!).    Camping in the summer might make a world of difference too since it was 47 degrees during the night and that’s pretty darn cold!  Still, it was FUN FUN FUN and we’ll definitely do it again now that we know the perfect camp site! 

Any local friends want to come with us?  Smile

April 25, 2011

Easter 2011

This year, we spent Easter with my brother, Kevin, at his home near Los Angeles.  The girls were worried about the Easter Bunny knowing where to deliver their baskets and since I forgot to bring the baskets (doh!), I had to tell them the truth about Ol’ Mr. EB.  Luckily, the disappointment was mitigated by Aunt Cindy who hid eggs all over her backyard!

blog IMG_6632 kevins house Maddy loves the thrill of the hunt and quickly scored big bowl of candy-filled eggs.

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With the help afforded her after donning her pink super-hero cape, Gwen did pretty well for herself too!

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Three dogs and one slimy green tennis ball sure can be fun!

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Kevin, Cindy and Moi

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My neice, Kaelee, with her sweet pup, Sophie.

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This is Kay.  I’ve called her Mom since she and my dad married (when I was somewhere around Gwen and Maddy’s age).   She and Dad divorced when I was in my early 30’s and our relationship took a detour sometime around that time too.  This weekend was the first time I’ve seen her in more than 15 years but I really hope it’s not the last.  Oh, and the pretty dog is Lady.   She barked her head off but her wildly wagging tail betrayed her intentions.   She’s as harmless as she is photogenic!

Tonight, we’ll take Daddy to the airport so he can go back to work tomorrow and Gwen and Maddy and I will head down closer to Disneyland for the rest of our Spring Break.

July 09, 2010

Tivoli and Catacombs {text by Andrew}

Friday, July 9th

Today we visited an immense villa in the small town of Tivoli outside Rome:  the villa d'Este.  

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This villa was the brainchild of a Cardinal d'Este, the son of Lucrezia Borgia, and the grandson of Pope Alexander VI.  Pope Alexander VI was among the most controversial figures in the most controversial period of the Papacy, and was accused of simony (granting ecclesiastical honors for secular considerations) and ordering the execution of political rivals.  His daughter Lucrezia (by one of his many mistresses before becoming Pope) was a pawn (perhaps willingly) in the political machinations of the Borgia family, and was married several times under suspicious circumstances as directed by her male relatives. Ippolito d'Este was the issue of one such union, and attained the position of Archbishop of Milan and then Cardinal.  He had aspirations of becoming Pope, but they were never fulfilled.

He built a grand villa at the top of a hillside, and acquired a talented crew of architects, painters, sculptors, and hydraulic engineers.   This team put together an ambitious plan to cover the hill itself with a garden and a series of 500 fountains, and for around the last 25 years of the Cardinal's life, work continued on the plan.  It was completed after his death in 1572.  To attain the desired effects, the team had to recover lost techniques from ancient Rome for hydraulic engineering.  The gardens had an enormous influence on European landscape design over the next centuries.

Here are some more pictures showing the villa, the gardens, and the fountains.

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Hard to believe, today is our last day in Rome.  We went this morning to see the Catacombs, where 500,000 Christians and Jews were buried outside the walls of Rome.  There was an ordnance in effect that nobody could be buried inside the city, for health reasons.  The only exceptions to this rule were burial of creatures deemed to be divine, mostly including the better class of emperors -- hence the tombs of Julius and Augustus Caesar and others in the Forum.

The Catacombs were exactly what we expected, only more so.  20km of underground passages on four levels excavated from volcanic stone for the purpose of burying folks.  Each corridor had small slats cut into each side where bodies could be placed; the bodies would then be sealed in using brick, stone, or marble.  Sixteen Popes were buried in the Catacombs we visited.  The Romans knew of the Catacombs, but did not know that secret Christian meetings were held in the corridors.  No photography was allowed inside the catacombs.

We also went to St Paul's basilica, which was a magnificent church built around 300-400 AD at the location of the death of St Paul.  The magnificent church was destroyed by fire in 1823 after surviving mostly intact for almost 1500 years.  The church was rebuilt according to the original plan, based on contributions of historically appropriate materials from a wide range of countries.  As you can see from the pictures below, the church today is beautiful, and the only sign of the previous destruction is the long row of capitals of the original columns, lying outside the cloister.

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